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Jan 25, 2008

Woman power challenges incumbent in Rural South

Story PictureOur campaign coverage continues tonight in the Belize Rural South constituency, which is made up of the islands off the Belize district. Ann-Marie Williams reports from the division’s largest community, San Pedro town.

Ann-Marie Williams, Reporting
The election campaign in San Pedro Town is in its homestretch and judging from the amount of red and blue banners and posters flying high on the island, it’s clear that the division has become a battleground. Traditionally, the constituency is a stomping ground for the People’s United Party but in 2003, the United Democratic Party’s Manuel Heredia Junior successfully contested the seat.

This time around, the P.U.P.’s candidate and the former deputy mayor of the town, Murlene “Mel” Spain is confident of a takeover.

Murlene “Mel” Spain, P.U.P. Candidate, Belize Rural South
“ If I were to be elected, which I will be elected, I will be working in the San Mateo sub-division, San Juan area; the low lying areas, D.F.C., they need a lot of work to do and try to work on some more sporting facilities for the kids.”

Ann-Marie Williams
“Are those areas a stronghold?”

Murlene “Mel” Spain
“Not really, but I see the needs of people. I want to work with people that will appreciate it. They will remember me forever. The greatest need right now are the streets in the low lying areas. For instance, where we are standing, this is San Mateo division and San Mateo don’t have one single road in here. You see what we are on right now, we are on London bridges, right? This is the way we walk all the way through here. These people have been here since 98, this land was given out to them by the United Democratic Party without any infrastructure at all.”

While Spain is focussing on infrastructure, Heredia who wants to be re-elected for a second term says that among other things he wants to properly address, is the traffic situation.

Manuel Heredia Jr., U.D.P. Incumbent, Belize Rural South
“Secondly I would like to see that our island is clean, free of drugs and also free of crime because a tourist destination has to be free of those two things. That would be the second thing that I would immediately look into that. Secondly, incentives so that we can bring more tourists in the island, incentives whereby developers would be happy to be working with and to stop that corruption that today, is plaguing us from developers not really coming to our island.”

Heredia is a son of the sand but Spain is a Cayo import. She came to Ambergris Caye twenty-five years ago as jewellery saleswoman. Spain says her town board experience was a stepping stone to national politics.

Murlene Spain
“I’ve been campaigning ever since I was asked to be the standard bearer and I have been going everyday, everybody knows me, my office is my golf cart, okay. Everybody stop me on the street, anybody can meet with me, talk to me and we will be going from now on until Election Day comes. We will be staying out a little later. Like I tell the girls, we will be out there, maybe until morning sometimes. We have to do it and come Election Day I know we will deliver a P.U.P. win, definatley.”

Manuel Heredia
“The people know me as a hard worker, as a grassroots, as somebody humble, of integrity. I have proven myself from the time I was a Mayor. Then I was a counsellor, then area rep. I have been involved in a variety of different committees and N.G.O.s and a man that is ready to work.”

Every year thousands of tourists visit San Pedro but for the people who live in San Mateo, on the outskirts of town, life is tough. As the politicians make their rounds, officials of the Holy Cross Anglican School highlight a few of the needs in the area.

Glenda Rancharan, School Counsellor, Holy Cross Anglican School
“The children of San Mateo needs water. Without water they can’t take a proper bath in the morning.”

Ann-Marie Williams
“You don’t have proper water at school?”

Glenda Rancharan
“Yes, we do but some of the residents that live all the way in the back and those are the children that come to our school and they don’t have running water, none and I don’t think it’s fair. It’s very dangerous for our children. We have many children that fall into this water with their bikes and it so happens that the bike gets sink in the mud but the child’s safe. It’s very dangerous for this community and the people but majority of the time it’s dangerous for the children.”

Manuel Heredia
“The bridge had been there even before the school was built. This is a bridge that was there. We repaired it and it got deteriorated. We were ready to repair when the school said that they need an alternative rather than the bridge. They need something permanent over there. That’s the reason why it was not repaired.”

Heredia has pledged that the bridge will be repaired soon. And in this stage of the campaign, convincing the majority of the island’s five thousand voters is crucial.

Ann-Marie Williams
“You’re supporting Mr. Heredia?”

Manuel Heredia Supporter
“Yes, I am quite sure that I can support Mr. Heredia.”

Ann-Marie Williams
“Why do you want to support him, or why are you planning on supporting him?”

Manuel Heredia Supporter
“Notice, the way he has been working the best way he can. I think he has done a great deal for us here in San Pedro.”

Murlene Spain Supporter
“She works hard for the town, especially for the D.F.C. area where we really need the help. It’s really bad over that side and she’s done a good job over that side, very good. The streets fill up and everything and that garbage whoo, amen for that.”

While San Pedro will choose the best candidate for itself, Spain is only one of three women on the February seventh ballot. It’s a distinction that she admits could work in her favour.

Murlene Spain
“First of all I’m a proud black woman and I know that doesn’t matter. These people in San Pedro, they like for who I really am. I try to mix with everybody on this island and I’m liked by most people.”

Frank Panton, Hydrologist
“The gender issue, I think is very big out here. It’s an example to the country and I like that. I also think that the woman candidate has a lot going for her.”

And while the dominating P.U.P. and U.D.P. signs might make it seem that Belize Rural South is a two person race, the National Reform Party’s Ernesto Caliz is an official candidate.

Manuel Heredia
“It will not really affect me. I don’t know if it will affect the P.U.P. but, definatley, I cannot see a third party getting over a hundred votes over here.”

Ann-Marie Williams for News 5.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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